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Erdoğan draws ire for referring to Alevis as a ‘species’ during speech at Ankara rally

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Twitter was abuzz with criticism after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently referred to Alevis as a “species” while speaking about one of his rivals, presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, during an election rally, with many users accusing the president of using discriminatory language.

During a Sunday speech in the capital Ankara, Erdoğan talked about the Alevi identity of Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the joint presidential candidate of an opposition bloc of six parties.

“Who asked you ‘Are you Alevi or not?’ We also have respect for Alevis. We have respect for every species. … Practice your Alevism, but there’s no need to talk about it,” Erdoğan said, addressing Kılıçdaroğlu, who referred to his Alevi roots for the first time in a historic speech last month.

Since Kılıçdaroğlu was elected leader of the secular CHP in 2010, much has been said about his roots in the eastern province of Tunceli and his Alevi identity. Kılıçdaroğlu himself has never made it an issue until April 19, when he openly discussed it in a video he shared on Twitter.

Erdoğan’s reference to Alevis as a “species” during the speech at Sunday’s rally drew criticism from opposition politicians and dissidents on social media, who accused the president of making discriminatory remarks.

Meral Akşener, leader of the nationalist İYİ (Good) Party and an ally of Kılıçdaroğlu, said during a speech on Monday in Nevşehir that it was “disrespectful” of Erdoğan to call Alevis a “species.”

“We are all human beings, whether Sunni or Alevi. … The president of this country is calling us a ‘species.’ Are we animals or plants? We are humans, created by God,” Akşener added.

“Alevism is not a species, it is [a part of] humanity. But I have no respect for your species,” Hüda Kaya, a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), tweeted, addressing Erdoğan.

İlyas Salman, a stage actor and a parliamentary candidate from the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) for the May 14 elections, said in an ironic tweet that Erdoğan could send doctors to measure their skull sizes to determine their species.

Underlining that Alevis aren’t a species but a group of people who are an integral part of Turkey, musician Sabahat Akkiraz said they will live together in brotherhood “despite those who do not follow the path of love and brotherhood.”

“Today we learned that we are a ‘species’,” journalist and documentarian Onur Öncü, who is Alevi, said in a tweet.

Kenan Akkocaoğlu, a retired journalist and CHP member, also said, referring to his party executives, that Erdoğan should know that those people he had called a “species” are the ones that will bring peace, harmony, brotherhood, love, respect, rights, law and justice” to Turkey.

Meanwhile, Yasin Aktay, an adviser to Erdoğan who writes columns for the pro-government Yeni Şafak daily, on Monday argued in an article that it wouldn’t be “so easy” for Kılıçdaroğlu to openly admit that he is Alevi if it weren’t for the policies and initiatives Erdoğan had pursued during his 20-year rule to eliminate discrimination against Turkey’s Alevi community.

Turkey is a majority Sunni country, with some in the conservative and religious population viewing Alevis as apostates; therefore people adhering to the Alevi faith generally avoid revealing their beliefs in public out of fear of facing discrimination or social alienation.

Alevis follow a heterodox Islamic tradition that separates them from Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Some view it as a cultural identity as much as a religious faith.

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